By Ruzanna Stepanian
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian is not as popular as is claimed by pro-government pollsters, one of his election challengers representing the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) said on Monday.
Deputy parliament speaker Vahan Hovannisian also echoed former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s claim that the Armenian authorities artificially increased the number of presidential candidates to facilitate Sarkisian’s victory in the ballot scheduled for February 19.
Opinion polls conducted by the Armenian Sociological Association (ASA) and other local researchers have consistently given Sarkisian a huge lead over other election contenders. Armenian state television cited on Sunday the results of the latest, U.S.-funded poll designed by the U.S. Gallup organization and conducted by the ASA.
It said Sarkisian would garner 29 percent of the vote if the election was held this week. Opposition leader Artur Baghdasarian would come in a distant second but far ahead of other candidates with 12 percent, according to the poll.
Ter-Petrosian and his allies dismiss this and previous voter survey as fraudulent, saying that the ASA’s past polling data always coincided with the official results of past Armenian elections criticized as deeply flawed by international observers.
Hovannisian, the Dashnaktsutyun candidate, likewise challenged the credibility of those polls. Asked by journalists whether he trusts in the approval ratings assigned to Sarkisian, he said, “No, I don’t.”
Hovannisian said Dashnaktsutyun, which is represented in Sarkisian’s cabinet by three minister, has conducted its own poll which put him in second place. But he declined to give any details, saying only that the prime minister’s victory is not a forgone conclusion despite upbeat statements made by his entourage.
“They usually speak of things being predetermined when their self-confidence is phony,” said Hovannisian. “There are no grounds for such self-confidence in Armenia.”
“Nothing is predetermined. Everything will be decided by the popular vote,” he added.
The Dashnaktsutyun leader, whose daughter married a nephew of Sarkisian recently, also made it clear that he will not drop out of the race in favor of the election favorite. “Dashnaktsutyun will go to the end with an intention to win,” he said.
In a weekend speech, Ter-Petrosian alleged that some of the nine presidential candidates entered the fray on government orders with the aim of splitting the opposition. The ex-president, seen by many as Sarkisian’s most formidable challenger, named no names but stressed that he does not regard Hovannisian and Baghdasarian as “bogus candidates.”
“He has serious reason to have such a view,” Hovannisian said, commenting on Ter-Petrosian’s claims.